Following are recommended books, CDs, and DVDs, that span a wide range of interests, but share some common qualities (yours to guess). If you have made it this far, enjoy...
Note: The qualifier "of the Semester," when present, indicates when it was recommended as part of an engineering class — because even though engineering is a noble passion, there is more to life than engineering. I also confess to having authored the brief reviews/comments that describe some titles.
Hyperlinks will bring you to the corresponding Amazon.com page
- Brave New World
(by Aldous Huxley):
One of a few masterpieces oft cited to illustrate the definition of “dystopia,” written as a satirical warning against a frightening future, much of the utopia that “Brave New World” describes is (scarily) already here, or soon to be. As a minimum, no one should be allowed to be born in a capitalistic society before having read this entertaining and well written novel.
(by David Lodge):
As the epitome of the “campus follies” genre, “Changing Places” is a must read for those either contemplating an academic career, or already caught in its dementia. Although parts of the novel reflect on issues and concerns of a few decades ago, contemporary equivalences abound and are easy to substitute – after all, human nature today is just as flawed as it was then. A light read with much tongue-in-cheek humor.
- Les Belles Soeurs: (Revised)
(by Michel Tremblay):
A play between book covers rarely measure-up to the “live happening” itself. This is particularly evident with “Les Belles Soeurs” as one must hear the vivid rhythmic lamentations recited by the sisters, in unison without expression, like a requiem for the lost hope of a meaningful life, to feel their dark despair and appreciate the innovative signature of the author. Nonetheless, while waiting for an opportunity to see the play, the written word also succeeds in conveying the forceful message. To be read in the original Quebecois slang version if at all possible.
Waiting for Godot: A Tragicomedy in Two Acts
(by Samuel Beckett):
As an absurdist philosophical exploration on the meaning of life (or lack of), it entertains in the dark perspective that life itself is a comedy, with or without a punch line, when one spends it waiting for something else than life itself. “Waiting for Godot” is very much an acquired taste. Reading the book has to be less satisfying that seeing the play, but this shortcoming is mitigated by the fact that it is generally performed with a minimalist décor.
Cyrano De Bergerac
(by Edmond Rostand):
Best enjoyed in its superior French version, Cyrano is as “classy” as it gets. Simple, yet most effective, full of humor yet very sad. It is both a touching love story, and the horrible testimony of a flawed human nature constantly fooled by appearances.
Frankenstein (Penguin Classics)
(by Mary Shelley):
Thanks to a string of Hollywood’s idiotic executives focused on cheap thrills, decades of bonehead movies have used Frankenstein in their title, but have kept nothing of the original story. As a result, readers that grab this title seeking a horror story (gory or not) stand to be disappointed. Mary Shelley’s story, which must be read in full appreciation of the style and sensibilities of the 19th century, is actually the sad story of a creature rejected by its creator. Love and love denied, revenge and forgiveness, rejection and acceptance, right and wrong – and how human judgment is tainted by appearances. In a century where image is all and beauty is mistaken for intelligence, Frankenstein’s story is all too contemporary.
Animal Farm: Centennial Edition
(by George Orwell):
Once written as a parody of the communist system, it actually works just as well as a contemporary parody of Corporate America. The pigs are ingrained in the corporate culture – from Wall Street to Big-Box-Marts – and there is no shortage of dumb horses working to death to support them. Certainly not the author’s intent, but an extension that makes sense to anyone who has seen how small cliques of egomaniacs have managed to plunder the companies they drove into bankruptcy. Barring an unexpected accelerated evolution of human nature, this is a classic that will forever remain relevant (and entertaining).
(by David Safier)
Extremely light beach-reading – which is sometimes exactly what the doctor ordered. The entertaining story of a shallow talk-show host, killed at the peak of her vanity, that must navigate her way to nirvana, one reincarnation at the time, from low-level to higher-lever life forms, and discovers on that journey some small bits on the meaning of life. A farce, in the literary sense.
- Fall 2012
The Emancipating Death of a Boring Engineer
by Michel Bruneau
- Fall 2013
The Shadow of the Wind
by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
Six pages are all it takes to determine if you want to read the remaining 480. A novelist's novel.
- Spring 2014
An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England
by Broke Clarke
Nobody can control how life unfolds - but some can't more than other... The meandering, dark, and quirky tale of a poor sap. An absurdist story, in an original wrapper.
Hyperlinks will bring you to the corresponding Amazon.com page
- Spring 1996: The Death of Common Sense: How Law is Suffocating America (by Philip K. Howard):
- Fall 1996: Silicon Snake Oil: Second Thoughts on the Information Highway (by Clifford Stoll)
- Spring 1997: 200% of Nothing: An Eye Opening Tour Through the Twists and Turns of Math Abuse and Innumeracy (by A.K. Dewdney)
- Fall 1997: Building the Biggest (Scientific American December 97 issue)
- Fall 1998: Defining Vision: How Broadcasters Lured the Government into Inciting a Revolution in Television, Updated and Expanded (by Joel Brinkley)
- Spring 1999: Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water, Revised Edition (by Marc Reisner)
- Fall 1999: Secrets of the Temple: How the Federal Reserve Runs the Country (by William Greider)
- Spring 2000: The Big Deal: Hollywood's Million-Dollar Spec Script Market (by Thom Taylor)
- Fall 2000: Barbarians Led by Bill Gates: Microsoft From The Inside: How The World's Richest Corporation Wields Its Power (by Jennifer Edstrom and Marlin Eller)
- Spring 2001: The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York (by Robert A. Caro)
- Spring 2002: " Crypto: How the Code Rebels Beat the Government Saving Privacy in the Digital Age (by Steven Levy)
- Spring 2003:
Fast Food Nation:
The Dark Side of the All-American Meal
(by Eric Schlosser):
If you thought that the problem with artery-clogging fast-food burgers was that they were setting you on-course to an early death, well, you missed the bigger picture. The real damage is much worse. And widespread. Schlosser performs a thorough investigation of the complete wreckage. Essential reading (before it is too late).
- Spring 2004:
The Culture of Fear: Why Americans Are Afraid of the Wrong Things
(by Barry Glassner):
Information has morphed into infotainment; factual knowledge can’t compete with drama. Media greed isn’t the root cause of intellectual laziness, but journalism abdicates from its responsibility when it elects to cater to uneducated fears and prejudices to ensure a bigger market share. “Culture of fear” describes the forces at play and the system that benefits from the inertia of the status-quo. And it does so very well.
- Spring 2005:
Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America
(by Barbara Ehrenreich):
Fascinating perspectives on the plight of those that survive living on minimum wages from one person who had the luxury of “trying it out” for a few months. Below the poverty line, mundane problems become serious challenges, and humanity is short-changed. While it’s always miserable to be poor, in any country, it is the debilitating pressures to optimize profits (for others) that underlie why the United States is a great place to be rich, and a tough one to be poor
- Spring 2006:
Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic (Bk Currents)
(by John De Graaf, David Wann, Thomas H. Naylor):
So where does it all stop? Interesting insights and food for thought.
- Spring 2007:
The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason
(by Sam Harris):
With arguably no topic in America more contentious and hotly debated than religion (oddly enough), it is important to ponder the rationality of stated and unstated religious wars (or just one-on-one killings for the same purposes). In absence of a compulsory high-school course on “comparative world religion and philosophy,” this book, as a minimum, provides a few interesting observations. Overall, an entertaining read, sure to fuel endless passionate debates (in which I have absolutely no intention to partake).
- Spring 2008:
The End of Science: Facing the Limits of Knowledge in the Twilight of the Scientific Age
(by John Horgan):
In support of a daring postulate, certain to enrage a myriad of scientists, the author harvested a cohort of interesting interviews that provide interesting perspectives. Given what’s at stake, one would have expected little support for such a subjective and aggressive proposition, but pessimists will be delighted to discover that they are in good company.
- Spring 2011:
Molvania (Jetlag Travel Guide)
(by Santo Cilauro, Tom Gleisner, Rob Sitch
The bookshelves of readers with eclectic tastes must include clever humor books - life would be too boringly serious otherwise. The Jetlag travel guides look so deceptively real that the person in the airplane seat next to you will wonder why he/she has never heard of Molvania, Phaic Tan, or San Sombrero. Of better quality and layout than many actual travel books, these spoof guides display a solid tongue-in-cheek British-like humor that doesn’t fail those who like this kind of dry matter-of-fact humor. Low-key subtle remarks, vivid imagination, brilliant analogies, quality graphics; scarily too real.
- Spring 2011:
Why I Became an Atheist: A Former Preacher Rejects Christianity
(by John W. Loftus
A fascinating book thoroughly reviewing all the arguments of Christian fundamentalists and counter arguments of atheists, presented by an author who flipped from one side of the debate (as a preacher) to the other (as an atheist). There may be no such thing as an objective observer on such matters, but this book provides an edifying and much needed read on the clashing perspectives (particularly given that politics and religions are getting intertwined nowadays), and an impressive in-depth coverage of all the issues on the table.
- Spring 2012
Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle
by Chris Hedges
Novels that describe such grim prospects are referred to as dystopian literature. The problem is that Empire of Illusion is not a novel – and that it doesn’t describe the future, but our present reality where everything and everybody has become a commodity. Pessimists will enjoy this dark essay on the modern culture of entertainment that fancies style over substance, promotes image over wisdom, and fosters gullibility (when not outright stupidity) for the benefits of mega-egos and manipulators
- Spring 2014
OPUS by Berkeley Breathed: The Complete Sunday Strips from 2003-2008
by Berkeley Breathed
A "political and social commentary" - in a thinly veiled disguise.
- Fall 2014
The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation
by Drew Westin
Provides a valuable perspective on how elections have become an applied exercice in psychological manipulations. Although written at a time when one party alone followed those recipies, both parties now use the same tactics (same game, different playbooks).
- Spring 1992: Amused to Death by Roger Waters
- Fall 1992: Unplugged by Eric Clapton
- Spring 1993: When I Was a Boy by Jane Siberry
- Fall 1993: Time for Mercy by Jann Arden
- Spring 1994: The Mask and Mirror by Lorenna McKennit
- Fall 1994: La Nouvelle Saison by Beau Dommage
- Naked but for Lilies by Jan Johnston
- Clown in the Mirror by Royal Hunt
- Fall 1995: The Memory of Trees by Enya
- Sister Drum by Dadawa
- Spring 1996: Boys for Pele by Tori Amos
- Fall 1996: Anthology 3 by The Beatles
- Spring 1997: Pieces of You by Jewel
- Fall 1997: Era by Era
- Paradox by Aikawa Namase (Japanese import only)
- Live Bait by Arrogant Worms
- Spring 1998: Genesis Revisited by Steve Hackett
- Johan De Meij - The Big Apple (Symphony No. 2) by Johan de Meij (Amsterdam Wind Orchestra version)
- Fall 1998: The Visitor by Arena (import only)
- Spring 1999: Visual Audio Sensory Theater by VAST
- Fall 1999: Yesyears by YES
- Spring 2000: Beware of Darkness by Spock's Beard
- Fall 2000: A TRIBUTE TO GENTLE GIANT by Various Artists (note: this is eclectic music)
- Spring 2001: Retropolis by the Flower Kings
- Spring 2002: Over the Hills and Far Away by Nightwish
- Spring 2003: Scarlet's Walk by Tori Amos
- Up by Peter Gabriel
- Spring 2004: Vigil in a Wilderness of Mirrors by Fish
- Spring 2005: Human Equation [Limited Edition] [Bonus DVD] by Ayreon
- Spring 2006: Be by Pain of Salvation
- Spring 2007: Insekt by Carptree
- Spring 2008: Doomsday Afternoon by Phideaux
- Spring 2009: Who's The Boss In The Factory by Karmakanic
- Spring 2011: Dix by Jorane
- Spring 2012: Cheat the Gallows by Bigelf
- Fall 2012: The Butcher's Ballroom by Diablo Swing Orchestra
- Fall 2013: Mister Heartbreak by Laurie Anderson (1984)
- Spring 2014: English Electric: Full Power by Big Big Train (2013)
- Spring 2014: Serge Fiori by Serge Fiori (2014)
- Fall 2014: 3:47 E.S.T. and Hope by Klaatu (Remastered)
- Spring 2000: House of Yes - Live from the House of Blues
- Fall 2000: This Is Spinal Tap (Special Edition)
- Spring 2001: Fantasia 2000
- Spring 2002: The Concert for New York City
- Spring 2003: Peter Gabriel - Secret World Live by Peter Gabriel
- Spring 2004: Roger Waters - The Wall (Live in Berlin) by Roger Waters
- Spring 2005: Peter Gabriel - Play: The Videos by Peter Gabriel
- Yes - Symphonic Live by Yes
- Spring 2006: The Rutles - All You Need Is Cash by The Rutles
- Blackmore's Night -- Castles & Dreams by Blackmore's Night
- Three Worms and an Orchestra by the Arrogant Worms
- Spring 2007: Pink Floyd - Pulse by Pink Floyd
- Spring 2008: The McCartney Years by Paul McCartney
- Spring 2009: Why We Fight documentary
- Spring 2011: Babine [Blu-ray] Offbeat Fantasy Comedy (Foreign)
- Fall 2011: Inside Job Understanding the Millennium's biggest rip-off
- Spring 2012: The Six Wives Of Henry VIII [Blu-ray] by Rick Wakeman
- Fall 2012: Emerson Lake & Palmer - 40th Anniversary Reunion Concert by ELP
- Fall 2013: Styx: Grand Illusion / Pieces of Eight - Live [Blu-ray] by Styx
- Fall 2014: Death By China documentary
For unknown sociological reasons, the 1970's were sort of the haydays of disaster movies (see here). Topics covered ranged from sinking boat ("The Poseidon Advanture"), air disaster ("Airport"), high-rise fire ("The Towering Inferno"), and many more, including, of course, earthquake. "Earthquake" is the grand-daddy of earthquake movies. Beyond being a "classic", it is the film that lauched "Sensurround" in movies theaters, a technology that pumped sub-audio waves at 120 decibels to immerse the audience in earthquake waves. Without that rumble, it's just another cookie-cutted diaster movie, with an all-star cast - although it is a "classic". As for the earthquake damage: "B" for effort, as we are talking about mid-70's special effects here, after all. (IMDB Spec)
The purpose here is not to comment on the quality of the scripts (because
most storylines stick to formula for the genre) or acting (because some
movies showcased A-list actors on the marquee, while others hired those in
the studio parking lot that held highest their "Will work for food" sign).
Rather, the purpose here is to comment on the credibly of the earthquake damage (as depicted by a film industry that must embellish,
for box-office benefits). IMDB links are also provided for the deeply
Aftershock: Earthquake in New York
Surprising. Bravo for looking at an earthquake outside of California (although, arguably, Hollywood went overboard, for effect). Notwithstanding the exageration, maybe the most credible set of earthquake damage of the bunch. "A-". (IMDB Spec)
(Again, due to severe shortage of original titles)
(Spoiler alert) This Chinese production cleverly used the 1976 Tangshan and 2008 Sichuan earthquakes as bookmarks to human drama, weaving 32 years of China's history into a tearjerker that is surprisingly watchable (and probably even so in its IMAX version). Although predictable (by those who know their seismic history), it is a testimonial to the 250,000 who died during the 1976 event. B+. (IMDB Spec)
And now, tsunami stories... Not surprising, in the aftermath of the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami, and 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, it was just a matter of time for Hollywood to try to cash-in. Although, in fairness, this one is actually watchable. According to Mr. Cranky's rating scale (http://www.mrcranky.com),
it might have received only get "1 bomb". (IMDB
The Great Los Angeles Earthquake
Nothing memorable here. Made-for-TV movie, produced after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake to capitalize on the public's sudden awareness of the risk in California, it preceeded the Northridge earthquake (Los Angeles) by about 3 years (both the movie and real earthquake were about hidden faults, but the similarities stop there). "C" because there's been worse. (IMDB Spec)
Supreme package for those ignoramus who like 3 hours doses of nonsense. A movie in which Southern California literally separates from the United States. A well deserved "F" across the board. Mind-bogling: A sequel was produced as a TV mini-series. (IMDB Spec)
The Day the Earth Moved
As the movie apparently could only afford to destroy 5 homes and a gas station in a hellhole in the middle of the desert, they were trashed beyond artistic license (with the means available in 1974). A few minutes might be of interest to those interested by non-structural damage. Another non-negociable "F".
(Again. Always lots of aftershocks, I guess...)
The genius who got the brilliant idea of mashing an earthquake movie with a slasher horror flick succeeded in plunging the seventh art to new lows (and burn $2M in the process). Watching the film's thrashy characters flubber in gallons of fake blood will make your eyes bleed. Films like this perfectly highlight the failure of the letter grade system, because F covers far to wide a range (from 0% to 60%). This one earns a solid F - of the 0% type. (IMDB Spec)
Disaster Wars: Earthquake versus Tsunami
It is a rare event to find all critiques agreeing on the rating for a movie. Exceptionally, here, they concurred that this one deserves a 0/10 grade (only because negative grades cannot be given). Bears little ressemblance to actual earthquakes and tsunamis, but shows that movies can technically be done by randomly recruiting the cast in a Walmart. Forcing detainees at Guantanamo to watch this might be a violation of human rights.
Sure, chunks of concrete fall out of nowhere with no rhyme or reason, sure the ground moves in ways that would baffle any respectable seismologist, but... IMAX 3D!!! How not to love nonsense when it is projected on a 70ft x 50ft screen with 30,000 Watts of sound? All done with big name actors (a first since 1976). Just think of it as the "Fast and Furious" of earthquake movies, and enjoy the ride. Kudos for recognizing that shattered glass falling from buildings is a hazard (not all buildings have tempered glass). No kudos for destroying the Golden Gate Bridge... again, after Godzilla (2014), Kaiju (Pacific Rim 2013), and just about everything else (a video compilation of Hollywood attacks on Golden Gate Bridge can be seen here). San Andreas is as much about earthquakes as Star Wars is about rocket science, but lots of bonus points for its sheer entertainment value, for the link on earthquake preparedness in the lower left corner of the movie's official website and for Sia's eerie slowed-down version (first minute only) of California Dreaming from the Mama's and Papa's, raise it up to an A-. (IMDB Spec)
San Andreas Quake
Apparently, purposely named (and released at about the same time) as the big-budget "San Andreas" movie - with a slightly longer title but a massively smaller budget. The targeted audience is those same folks who, driving to Orlando, would get off the highway and follow signs to DazeneyWorld, pay admission and wonder if the drunk clown and the ramshackle House of Mirrors are the Goofy and Space Mountain that everybody talked about. To avoid at all cost, unless one is particularly fond of special effects done with paper and scissors. A solid "F". (IMDB Spec)
The 30 seconds clip here says it all. Claim to fame: Features the only earthquake in the world capable of spontaneously igniting heads (with lame CGI flames) - see at 26 seconds into the clip. If the grades scale was not truncated at "F", this one would deserve a "Z". (IMDB Spec)
Still waiting for the movie version of Shaken Allegiances...